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The mysterious underground channels of the Ancient Oba’s Palace in Akure, SW Nigeria

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A mountain of blue-stained clouds sat in the sunny skies, the statue of Asodeboyede- the grandson of Oduduwa stood ready for battle before the ancient Oba’s Palace of Akure land, while a dexterously-crafted labyrinth of obfuscating sewers lies beneath it… the heavens open and spew out torrents of rain water upon the land; and though for several days it rain, the sand gets soaked but the 700yrs old palace is never flooded. Some of the locals believe the supernatural forces guarding the palace created an invisible straw with which they suck all the rain waters falling upon the ancient palace, while others think  it is the palace guards who creep into the palace court yards in the night to fetch out the waters when the palace gets flooded.

The tour guide assigned to the ancient palace had already closed for the day before I arrived in Akure. Although it was a long trip from Lagos, I had just one night to spend in Akure and couldn’t afford to postpone my visit to the ancient palace. It was 4:30pm and a myriad of dark clouds had begun to assemble in the skies. It was going to rain.

I approached the palace gates and two police men stopped me, notifying me that the palace is closed to visitors for the day. My heart sank and the sadness swept over my face. One of the police men quickly advised me to go to new palace and talk to the people there in case I might get lucky.

The new Oba’s Palace is just adjacent to the ancient palace. I walked in anxiously and found a man seated near the main entrance. I introduced myself to him and quickly explained how I had rushed down all the way from Lagos just to see the ancient palace and how early I was going to leave Akure town the next day. The man was dressed in patterned blue Ànkárá Bùbá and Sóóró with a matching traditional cap and his neck and wrists adorned with strings of local beads. He is one of the traditional Chiefs- which naturally gives him privileged access to anywhere in the Palace.He agreed to sneak me into the ancient Palace at a cost. I didn’t mind. I had heard a lot about the secret drainage channels in the palace and I had to see them for myself.

He asked me to follow him as we went back to the entrance of the ancient palace; he talked to the police men and they allowed us in. There are two main entrances to the ancient palace- Ònà Okùnrin which is the corridor through which men are only allowed to pass through into the palace; and Ònà Obìnrin where only women are allowed to enter through. It is a taboo for a man to pass through Ònà Obìnrin and for a woman to pass through the men’s corridor.

Naijatreks_akpalace2 – The exterior surroundings of the ancient palace.

The two corridors lead into Ùà Lílá- a wide courtyard carpeted with a sheet of worn gravel and grass and enclosed on every side by side-corridors of short and thick mud pillars holding rust-brown corrugated iron  shed roofs. At the rear end of the yard, facing the entrances is a hip-roofed open hall, projecting out from the main building. It is the place where the Oba (King) met with his Chiefs and other visitors in ancient times. As we stepped into Ùà Lílá, a gust of nipping breeze blew over my skin carrying driblets of moisture with it. Within a few moments, the heavens opened up its mouth and spewed out torrents of rain water upon the land. The chief took me through each of the courtyards in the palace, explaining the significance of each and emphasizing the various taboos associated with each. Most of the court-yards were small and each one led into another through flights of steps and narrow door ways carved into the thick and dusty mud walls of the ancient palace. Various holes can be seen set in the walls. The chief explained how the holes are networked and have a special way of collecting  sound from each of the courtyards and transmitting them to a special secret room in the palace. In ancient times, it is through these holes that the Oba eavesdrops on any secret discussion going on within the palace, thereby giving him first-hand information about whatever was going on behind his back. Ùà Lílá is the largest and most public of all the courtyards, while Ùà Òdórò is the deadliest of all; “whoever swears Ùà Òdórò and breaks the covenant will die immediately’,” noted the chief.

After about an hour of continuous rainfall, the clouds broke and sealed its spout. It was as if the rain droplets never touched the floors of the open courtyards in the palace. Only the glistening surface of the rust iron roofs, wet leaves of growing plants and the gravels within the yards hinted the occurrence of rainfall in the vicinity. I looked around and noticed small, about 30cm-wide holes located at a corner and foot of each of the yards. The Chief explained how each of the holes interconnect with one another and we both marveled at the ingenuity expressed by the builders of the ancient palace when they constructed it 700yrs ago.

I asked him where the secret underground sewers lead to and he explained how no one really knows, as no open drains are visible around the external surroundings of the palace.

On our way out of the ancient palace, while walking through Ùà Lílá, I noticed a small hole near the centre of the courtyard and I quickly went closer to get a closer look. The 60cm-deep hole exposed an underlying narrow water-filled channel supported by square-shaped blocks of stone. This is definitely a peep-hole into the secret sewers underlying the palace. That night, I had a dream. I saw myself the size of a small rat, armed with a sharp spear and shield, and I jumped into the hole at Ùà Lílá court yard. As I began to crawl through the network of sewers, I got lost and it almost seemed I was moving in circles. While trying to find my way out of the gloomy darkness, I began to hear heavy drumbeats banging on the thick layer of earth above my head. It was a heavy rainfall. I found a small inlet of light ahead and I began to run, hoping to escape from the sewers before the waters storm the channels. I reached the outlet and began to climb out when I woke up. A weak smile slid across my lips when I realized it was just a dream. A visit to the ancient Palace of Akure land is a dream worth having and the actual experience a reality worth fulfilling.

The location of the ancient palace was established by Omoremilekun, known as Asodeboyede the grandson of Oduduwa. His father’s name is Ekùn (tiger). Asodeboyede, who was a popular hunter during his time, migrated from Osu- a place near Ile-Ife, and settled in the area presently known as Akure land where he later became the first Oba of the land. He reigned from 1150 to 1180 AD- a period of 30yrs.

The ancient Oba’s Palace is located at the center of Akure town along Oba-Adesida road, Ondo State capital, southwest Nigeria. The official palace tour guide is always available to attend to tourists between 8am and 4pm every day.

Naijatreks_akpalace04  – Ònà Okùnrin (Male passage into the palace)

Naijatreks_akpalace05Ònà Obìnrin (Female passage into the palace)

The two corridors lead into Ùà Lílá- a wide courtyard carpeted with a sheet of worn gravel and grass and enclosed on every side by side-corridors of short and thick mud pillars holding rust-brown corrugated iron  shed roofs….

 

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– Ùà Lílá, the largest of all the courtyards and the main court where villagers come together to make procession to the Oba.

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– The old Horse Wagon used by the Oba in ancient times.

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– At the rear end of the yard, facing the entrances is a hip-roofed open hall, projecting out from the main building. It is the place where the Oba (King) met with his Chiefs and other visitors in ancient times.

Naijatreks_akpalace16  – Entrance to Ùà Ìbúra (Ìbúra court yard), the court where the villagers come to swear innocence, allegiance etc. as any situation demands…

Naijatreks_akpalace17  – Ùà Ìbúra (Ìbúra court yard).

Naijatreks_akpalace18 – Entrance to Ùà Oríòle, another big and very important court yard at the palace. It is the court that is used for festivals.

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– Entrance to the seven alters along a corridor in Ùà Oríòle. Each alter represents one of the ancient streets in Akure land. During festivals, the Oba enters each of the alters to make atonements.

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– The door through which the Oba enters the ancient palace during festivals.

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– The chief explained how the holes are networked and have a special way of collecting  sound from each of the courtyards and transmitting them to a special secret room in the palace…

Naijatreks_akpalace24– Entrance to Ùà Ameshe.

Naijatreks_akpalace25 – Ùà Ameshe courtyard, where masquerades dress up during Eléfùnta Festival (also known as Jàjàjo Festival during which the market is closed for 7days).

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– One of the sewer inlets at Ùà Lílá.

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– The sewer inlet at one of the inner courtyards.

 

Naijatreks_akpalace11 – One  of the numerous courts at the palace.

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– Most of the court-yards were small and each one led into another through flights of steps and narrow door ways carved into the thick and dusty mud walls of the ancient palace…


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– Another court yard at the ancient palace.

 

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– On our way out of the ancient palace, while walking through Ùà Lílá, I noticed a small hole near the centre of the courtyard and I quickly went closer to get a closer look….

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…the 60cm-deep hole exposed an underlying narrow water-filled channel supported by square-shaped blocks of stone… a peep-hole into the secret sewers in the palace.

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This article was written by Folarin Kolawole

Founder of Naijatreks, Nigerian-born Folarin Kolawole is a geologist, travel writer and researcher. When not at work, he travels the length and breadth of Nigeria, exploring, taking photos and writing about her numerous hidden tourist potentials.   'Naijatreks' is a product name registered under the Ntreks brand, which is also duly registered by Nigeria's Federal Corporate Affairs Commission. The contents on this blog are re-usable. However, it must be ensured that it is linked back to this blog, and correctly attributed to Naijatreks or the author. Please do not edit, rewrite or commercialize the original works on this blog without direct and written permission from the Founder (Folarin Kolawole). For inquiries and advert placement on the blog, kindly contact us at info@naijatreks.com or naijatreks@gmail.com.

4 comments:

myne@mynewhitman.com' Myne WhitmanAugust 7, 2013 at 9:04 pmReply

I love this. Thanks for the guided tour :)

NaijatreksAugust 10, 2013 at 7:53 amReply

@Myne Whitman…. awww thanks Myne

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Naijatreks | The Genius of our ancient Yoruba ArchitectsMarch 7, 2014 at 2:31 pmReply

[…] Almost all the houses had courtyards, while the finer and stronger looking structures had more than one courtyard e.g The ancient Oba’s Palace. Each of the courtyards is surrounded by rooms which open into the courtyard. Since the Yoruba culture permitted polygamy, it was necessary for a wealthy man to have more than one courtyard in his house back in those days, so that each wife had a courtyard to herself and her children. In a king’s palace, some courtyards are also built specially for religious purposes as seen at the ancient Oba’s Palace in Akure. […]

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